What is mission engagement?

TOTW FootprintIn progressing toward a mission engagement framework within the Uniting Church Synod of Queensland, we’re working on language and definitions. A good starting point seems to be to wonder…what is mission engagement?  Here’s a draft response to that question. Your comments, questions and suggestions welcome.

What is mission engagement?

When we talk about mission, use a descriptor like ‘missional’ or talk about mission engagement in the Uniting Church Queensland Synod, there is an important starting point for our conversation.

The Missio Dei.

The phrase Missio Dei translates literally as the mission of God (from the Latin mittere (to send) and dei (God)).  Locked up in these words are the keys to understanding mission, to describing a theology of mission (or missiology), and to our action in mission engagement.

The mission that we talk about in this phrase belongs to God.  That is to say, we are talking about God’s mission rather than the church’s mission.  We join with God’s purposes for the world, purposes founded in God’s love for all creation.  Jurgen Moltmann put it this way:

It is not the church that has a mission of salvation to fulfil in the world; it is the mission of the Son and the Spirit through the Father that includes the church.

Archbishop Rowan Williams paraphrased this thought, putting it into simpler language:

It is not the church of God that has a mission, but the God of mission who has a church.

God is a sending or missioning God. In John 20:21 Jesus declares to his disciples that “as the Father has sent me, I am sending you.” Not only is Jesus sent by God, but God sends the church (the gathered body of disciples) through Jesus and with the power of the Spirit (John 14:15-17).

David Bosch (Transforming Mission) says we have learned that mission is not an activity of the church, but an attribute of God.  God is mission, and the church is one instrument of God’s mission.

We are growing too, to understand that while the church is an important instrument of God’s action in the world, we are not the entirety of it. God is at work in places that the church is not – as described in the Preamble to the Uniting Church’s Constitution for example:

The First Peoples had already encountered the Creator God before the arrival of the colonisers; the Spirit was already in the land revealing God to the people through law, custom and ceremony. The same love and grace that was finally and fully revealed in Jesus Christ sustained the First Peoples and gave them particular insights into God’s ways. (Clause 3, Preamble to Constitution of Uniting Church in Australia)

And so the question must be – if God has a mission, and if God sends us to participate, to join in that mission, then, what is it?  What is the God’s mission or purpose in the world?

Daniel Migliori (Faith Seeking Understanding) describes the mission of the church as participating in the reconciling love of the triune God who reaches out to a fallen world through Jesus Christ, in the power of the Spirit.

We participate in God’s mission of reconciliation. God’s mission, fuelled by love, is demonstrated and enacted in the person of Christ. Our joining with God’s mission is empowered by the Holy Spirit.

Migliori explores three different dimensions of God’s mission demonstrated in the life of Christ, by using the labels of Prophet, Priest and King.   Knowing Christ, Migliori says, enables us to understand God’s mission in which Christ participates. The first question of mission then, is to ask “Who is Christ?”

The priestly nature of Christ is present in the proclamation of forgiveness, and the claiming of reconciliation in the name of Christ – restoring people to one another, and in relationship with God.

The prophetic nature of Christ is seen in the teaching of God’s will, and in the denouncing of injustice and oppression.

The kingly nature of Christ is demonstrated in offering protection and advocacy for the poor and powerless, and the wise use of resources for the good of the whole, for the coming reign of God.

Finally Migliori says that the mission of Christ is revealed in the call to follow the way of the cross, showing partiality to outsiders, strangers, the alien or different.

If we understand the nature and character of Christ and that our call as church is to participate in the mission of God, then we can bring these two things together in the second question of mission: “What is God up to in the world?”

If we are to be Christ-centred, says Migliori, then we must also be Spirit empowered.  If we allow the spirit of God to be at work in, among and through us, the outcomes will be a community marked by justice and inclusiveness, one that embraces strangers and sees relationships transformed.

Importantly, the Spirit at work in us will enable us to see where God is at work in the world, to discern God’s presence beyond the four walls of the church.  It is the Spirit of God at work in us that enables us to ask the third question of mission: “How do we join with God’s purpose and activity?”

The Uniting Church understands that the church is sent to serve in God’s mission and, at our best, to demonstrate the intent God has for all creation as a ‘fellowship of reconciliation’.  The Basis of Union describes this (in part) in Paragraph 3:

God in Christ has given to all people in the Church the Holy Spirit as a pledge and foretaste of that coming reconciliation and renewal which is the end in view for the whole creation. The Church’s call is to serve that end: to be a fellowship of reconciliation, a body within which the diverse gifts of its members are used for the building up of the whole, an instrument through which Christ may work and bear witness to himself.

Mission engagement is that action that takes place whenever we collectively and continually address these questions of mission and respond faithfully according to the answers we discover. Who is God?  What is God up to in our world?  How do we join in?

These are the questions of mission, the questions that drive us deep into the heart of God, call us into joining with Christ in acting in our world, and send us to seek discernment and empowerment through the Spirit of God.

Mission engagement is what happens when we join with God’s purposes and action in the world. And it is at the very heart of God’s purposes for the Church.

References:

  • Bosch, David J. (1991), Transforming Mission: Paradigm Shifts in Theology of Mission, Maryknoll: Orbis Books
  • Daniel L. Migliori (2004), Faith Seeking Understanding: An Introduction to Christian Theology, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans
  • Moltmann, Jurgen (1977), The Church in the Power of the Spirit: A Contribution to Messianic Ecclesiology, London: SCM Press
  • Uniting Church in Australia, Basis of Union 1992 Edition
  • Uniting Church in Australia, Preamble to Constitution

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